Beas · Himachal Pradesh

NHPC negligence leads to man-made disaster in Parbati Valley in Himachal Pradesh

(Above: illegal muck dumping by Parbati HEP along the Sainj River in Himachal Pradesh)

The people of Sainj-Parbati valley in Beas basin in Himachal Pradesh’s Kullu disrict’s Banjar Tehsil are living in constant fear of a disaster. Since six days now, the power tunnel of the NHPC’s under construction 800 MW Parbati II hydropower project is heavily leaking, but NHPC refused to stop water release into the tunnel till the leakage led to landslides and displacement of people. Ultimately on the night of April 17, 2017, huge cracks spread over 200 m appeared in the hills, leading to landslide & fall of soil and rocks, immediately threatening eight families of Rahan (Reina) village, though over 400 families of some 12 villages of Rella Panchayat (including Rella, Sharan, Jiva, Sulga, Khadoa, Rahan, Shalah, Bhebal, Bahara, Bagidhar, Khaul, etc) are facing the prospects of disaster as cracks in the hill have appeared just above the villages. People here are spending sleepless nights since several days now. They are afraid that if the leakage continues, these villages will have to be evacuated any moment, else a major catastrophe may result.[i] Continue reading “NHPC negligence leads to man-made disaster in Parbati Valley in Himachal Pradesh”

Dams · Himachal Pradesh

Lahaul people write to Environment Committee not to clear Reoli Dugli Hydro project

To

The Environment Appraisal Committee

River Valley Projects

Ministry of Environment and Forests

New Delhi

Subject: Submission related to Chenab River and Lahaul Valley  in context of EC for 430 MW Reoli Dugli project

Dear Chairperson,

We have read reports that the expert appraisal committee (EAC) on river valley and hydel projects of the Ministry of Environment has decided “not to take any cognizance of representations” received by its members since such representations are ‘anti-development’. The article appearing in Indian Express on January 14, 2017 stated, “In its December 30 meeting, the committee concluded that once a project proposal reaches the EAC for appraisal, it has crossed the stage of public consultation and “the EAC should not go back in time, and should not reopen it, by entertaining unsubstantiated representations received from the people”. Continue reading “Lahaul people write to Environment Committee not to clear Reoli Dugli Hydro project”

Bhagirath Prayas Samman · Chenab · Dams · Himachal Pradesh · Hydropower · Sutlej

Bhagirath Prayas Samman: Himdhara Collective: Relentless Questioning and Doing

When I talk with Manshi, a friend and co-traveler from Himdhara Collective about Bhagirathh Prayas Samman that the collective received during the India Rivers Week 2016, she is modest, even slightly hesitant. She simply says, “We love the mountains, we want to protect them and help mountain communities fight the unequal battle against unplanned hydropower. That is one motivation of our work. But the other is recognition of the fact that we are privileged… privileged to be able to speak English, to work on a computer, to understand the bureaucratic procedures that alienate a tribal or forest dweller from her land. That understanding also drives us.”

Citation of Bhagirath Prayas Samman given to Himdhara Collective states: Himdhara’s strength is its engagement with communities, movements and organisations. It has created an effective discourse around issues of resource distribution and their ownership and the resultant impacts on ecological spaces of mountain communities, especially vulnerable groups like indigenous people, dalits and women. It is an honor to recognize and celebrate Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective’s extraordinary Bhagirath efforts in maintaining the integrity of rivers in Himachal Pradesh.”

In their own words, “Himdhara is an autnomous and informal non registered environment research and action collective, extending solidarity and support, in research and action, to people and organisations asserting their rights over their natural resources and agitating against corporatisation of these resources for destructive development in the state.”

IMG_9726
Face of Hydropower in Kinnaur Photo: Himdhara

A collective of young, passionate and questioning minds, Himdhara has been working with communities in far flung areas of Himachal Pradesh include Lahaul and Spiti and Kinnaur in their fight against the onslaught of ill-planned and bumper to bumper hydropower projects in Himachal, amongst other issues. Continue reading “Bhagirath Prayas Samman: Himdhara Collective: Relentless Questioning and Doing”

Arunachal Pradesh · Cumulative Impact Assessment · Dams · Himachal Pradesh · Ministry of Environment and Forests

Cumulative Impact Assessment documents not in public domain anymore? Letter to MoEF and CC

Even as the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has been sanctioning cascades of hydropower projects on here-to free flowing rivers in the Himalaya and North East India, Cumulative Assessment of the Impacts of these projects became a crucial area of concern. Over 70 dams are planned one after other for the rivers of the Upper Ganga Basin, 44 dams across the Siang Basin in Arunachal Pradesh famed for its pristine forests and biodiversity, 12 dams across the Lohit Basin, 19 for Subansiri basin. These are bumper to bumper projects, one starting where the other ends. Continue reading “Cumulative Impact Assessment documents not in public domain anymore? Letter to MoEF and CC”

Himachal Pradesh

HIMACHAL PRADESH HYDROPOWER PROJECTS IN 2015

Himachal Pradesh in Northern India is foremost among Indian states in pushing large hydropower projects. It has operating hydropower projects with total installed capacity of 7970 MW, under construction hydropower with 2216 MW and largest capacity projects under consideration for clearances. As this review of Hydropower development in Himachal Pradesh in 2015 shows, HP has also started facing the consequences of too many projects, with fragile Kinnaur area facing multiple disasters in 2015, including the penstock burst disaster at Sorang HEP. However, the Expert Appraisal Committee on Union Ministry of Environment and Forests continues to sanction more projects. In 2015, the committee recommended first stage clearance to 219 MW Luhri Project on Sutlej river and 210 MW Purthi Project on Chenab river. During the year, the 800 MW Kol Dam project was commissioned, and as our separate review of hydropower projects commissioned in 2015 shows, the project faced large number of serious problems and continues to face them even post commissioning.

Continue reading “HIMACHAL PRADESH HYDROPOWER PROJECTS IN 2015”

Dam Induced Flood Disaster · Dams · Disasters · Himachal Pradesh · Himalayas

Kinnaur in crisis; Sheer Negligence in hydro projects claiming lives. Who is accountable?

Above: Entirely destabilised house next to 100 MW Sorang HEP transmission lines Photo: Sumit Mahar

Immediate Press Statement from Himdhara 02/12/15

In the last two weeks a half a dozen lives have been lost in the Kinnaur region alone in three separate incidents that have one thing in common – accidents at hydropower project sites. The first event took place in Burang village on the 18th of November 2015 where a penstock pipe burst of the 100 MW Sorang Hydro-electric project led to the death of three people. On 29th November, two labourers died in blasting operations in the 450 MW Shongthong Karchham project, some others were seriously injured. And on the same day in the Bhabha Valley, a young teacher lost her life in a landslide that occurred in the area. Continue reading “Kinnaur in crisis; Sheer Negligence in hydro projects claiming lives. Who is accountable?”

Dams · Himachal Pradesh

Sorang Hydropower disaster: Will we learn any lessons?

Google Earth Image of the Area 

A burst in penstock pipe of 100 MW Sorang hydro power project (HEP) in Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh have played havoc with the lives and livelihoods of people of Burang and surrounding villages. On surface it may look like an accident. But deeper look raises doubts about many systemic loopholes that allowed the siutation that led to the disaster. Let us see the shortcomings and negligence exercised by project proponent and state government which finally resulted in the fatal accident. We urge the Himachal Pradesh Govt., other governments where such projects are coming up and Central Electricity Authority,  to constitute a monitoring cell to inspect quality of construction of ongoing HEPs and form adequate safety standards and enusre their strict implementation to prevent such mishaps from becoming a norm.    Continue reading “Sorang Hydropower disaster: Will we learn any lessons?”

Beas · Himachal Pradesh

Larji Dam Fishladder: an unlovely trinket, a deceptive ornament

Emmanuel Theophilus[1] (etheophilus@gmail.com)

The 126 MW Larji Hydropower project near Aut on the mainstem of the Beas is run by the Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board (HPSEB)[2]. The dam is constructed a little downstream of the confluence of the two main tributaries upstream, the Sainj and the Tirthan, at the narrowest part of a spectacular gorge, towering with limestone cliffs. The impounded waters of this dam have, since its construction in 2006, drowned the access road to the entire upper Kullu valley including Manali and the hundreds of villages upstream, including access to the entire Lahul valley and the region of Ladakh over the high passes from this end. The HPSEB then constructed a 3 km long tunnel to enable passage of traffic, and many people have warned of the hazardous nature of the tunnel. The 220 odd gods that descend from different valleys, on the backs of people to the lower Kullu valley every year in autumn however, refuse to use this tunnel. This is what compelled the HPSEB to build and maintain this tunnel, and during autumn to winter, to keep the water-storage in the dam low to enable the passage of gods, who have been traveling this route for over three and a half centuries. It is remark-worthy though, that this dam constructed as recently as 2006, seems to be heavily silted-up already and the dark shadows of sediment-shoals are visible just below the waters of the reservoir[3].

Being among the most recently completed, the Larji dam is the only dam on the Beas that has a fish-ladder, so it was of particular interest to us. Seeing no guard at the security booth, we walk in to the HPSEB dam operating office, and ask to speak to an officer about the fish ladder. To our complete surprise, we are spoken to and even taken on a tour of the ladder by a foreman who has worked on the dam for many years.

Having seen an elaborate fish ladder on the Kuri Chhu river in Bhutan of doubtful effectiveness[4], we could not help but look at this one with hope and excitement. Located at around 1,000 meters altitude, this dam was clearly in the way of a host of migratory species of fish. If this ladder design was effective, then surely the ‘barrier’ problem to seasonal migration for breeding and dispersal would have been addressed. Here though, is what we saw and heard.

  1. For one, the flow through the fish-pass seems too small to create an ‘attraction flow’ for fish. But even more obviously, the downstream entrance of the fish ladder is a steep cascade over a couple of meters of broken masonry and rock, that would clearly be un-negotiable by any fish that does not jump that high[5].
Downstream entrance of Larji fish ladder: The 2 m high jump that fish require to enter the ladder can be seen here
Downstream entrance of Larji fish ladder: The 2 m high jump that fish require to enter the ladder can be seen here (all photos by the author)

2. The outlet from the dam reservoir into the fish ladder is blocked off by a metal grill-mesh that is narrow enough to trap flotsam like Bisleri water-bottles. The mesh seemed too fine to let Mahseer of breeding-age pass through, either upstream or downstream.

3. The fish ladder was in a serious state of disrepair. To our questions about whether the ladder worked or not, the foreman says honestly that it does not. We see the reasons for this when we walk down the ̴100 meter length of the fish-pass channel.

Fishladder can be seen in serious state of disrepair and blocked by broken concrete parts can be seen here
Fishladder can be seen in serious state of disrepair and blocked by broken concrete parts can be seen here

4. The Larji fish ladder seemed to be a hash of different designs of fish passes. There were four different design elements in this one fish-pass. It had a slotted-weir fishway design, a low gradient Denil fishway, a steep-pass Denil fishway and a plain concrete culvert on a grade design. Most of these slotted weirs were clogged with fallen rocks and debris from the slope above, and in places, the pools in them were over-flowing the weir in a vertical fall almost 2 meters high.

Steep-pass Denil fishway part of the fishladder can be seen here, water is flowing too rapidly here for any fish to be able to go upstream
Steep-pass Denil fishway part of the fishladder can be seen here, water is flowing too rapidly here for any fish to be able to go upstream. The water picks up momentum down an extremely steep slope with the baffles at 45 degrees to the flow, not offset to slow the water, but concentrating the force of the water in mid-stream flow. The slope seemed to be at almost 40 degrees angle, and the water was turbulent in the extreme in this section. A workable Denilway slope, even for the strongest of swimmers among fish, is not designed to exceed a slope of 20% at most. This was close to a 100% slope

5. The oblique baffles on a Denil fishway are supposed to be placed in a manner that provides staggered partial-obstructions that slow the water down at variable velocities to make it passable for fish. However, here we saw that the water picks up momentum down an extremely steep slope with the baffles at 45 degrees to the flow, not offset to slow the water, but concentrating the force of the water in mid-stream flow. The slope seemed to be at almost 40 degrees angle, and the water was turbulent in the extreme in this section. A workable Denilway slope, even for the strongest of swimmers among fish, is not designed to exceed a slope of 20% at most. This was close to a 100% slope[6].

This part of fish ladder is less steep Denil
This part of fish ladder is less steep Denil

The last part of the fishway was a plain concrete culvert on a grade channel, essentially a sloping channel, where even the concrete sides of the channel had toppled over into the river-bed, and the final drop was over a two meter fall into the downstream flow. I asked the foreman whether he knew whether fish managed to make it over this extreme gauntlet. He said that they did not, but that he often saw fish gather and concentrate at the bottom of the dam under the sluice gates, and make futile leaps in an attempt to get over the dam. Clearly, the Larji dam fish ladder is just an unlovely trinket, a deceptive ornament.

Watch a 41 seconds video showing how fast the water is moving through the Larji Dam fishladder at: http://youtu.be/grVaxXPdeyY, Video is by the author.

It seemed to me that the dam builders and operators, the HPSEB in this case, both at the design and the executive levels, were not serious about constructing a fish-pass that would work, and neither were they serious about this at the operation and maintenance aspects. Whether they were serious at all even at the conceptual level, to put in place a mitigation measure that actually helped migratory fish bye-pass the barrier of the dam, or was this part of the design merely to obtain environmental clearance, can only be conjectured about. That hydropower projects can devise deceitful strategies for obtaining environmental clearance is one thing, but what does this tell us about the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, the Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects appointed by MoEF, the regional office of the MoEF, the state Fisheries Department and also the state pollution Control Board, who are all variously part of the approval processes for hydropower projects, when they get their environmental clearances based on such ‘mitigation measures’?

Larji Dam - about 100 m long fishladder channel can be seen on the right side
Larji Dam – about 100 m long fishladder channel can be seen on the right side

END NOTES:

[1] This article has been extracted from SANDRP’s publication: Headwater Extinctions: Hydropower projects in the Himalayan reaches of the Ganga and the Beas: A closer look at impacts on fish and river ecosystems, authored by Emmanuel Theophilus, for details, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/12/16/new-publication-headwater-extinctions-impact-of-hydropower-projects-on-fish-and-river-ecosystems-in-upper-ganga-and-beas-basins/

[2] The 126 MW Larji project is also infamous for being the costliest hydro-power project per unit electricity generated so far in India. Finally built at a cost of R.s 10.27 billion, which was twice the estimated cost, the Vigilance department unearthed major financial misappropriation by HPSEB officials.

[3] The Larji Dam became infamous in June 2014 when 25 students were washed away downstream from the dam due to sudden and unannounced release of water from the dam, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/06/12/nadiya-bairi-bhayi/

[4] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/fish-ladder-at-kurichhu-hydropower-project-bhutan-some-thoughts/

[5] Other than loaches, those tiny finger sized fish that can even climb (squiggle technique) up high waterfalls, provided there is something like a water-slide at the margins of the fall. They however, are not migratory fish.

[6] CIFRI recommends that the speed of flow of water in a fish-pass should not exceed 2 meters per second. Please see ‘Status of fish migration and fish passes with special reference to India’. MK Das and MA Hassan. CIFRI 2008.

Ganga · Himachal Pradesh · Himalayas · Hydropower · Uttarakhand

New Publication: Headwater Extinctions – Impacts of hydropower projects on fish and river ecosystems in Upper Ganga and Beas basins

SANDRP has just published a new report: “Headwater Extinctions- Hydropower projects in the Himalayan reaches of the Ganga and the Beas: A closer look at impacts on fish and river ecosystems”, authored by Emmanuel Theophilus. The report[i] was released at the India Rivers Week held during Nov 24-27, 2014.

Front Cover of the report HEADWATER EXTINCTIONS
Front Cover of the report HEADWATER EXTINCTIONS

Headwater Extinctions deals with impacts of hydropower projects in Beas basin in Himachal Pradesh and Alaknanda-Bhagirathi basins in Uttarakhand on river ecosystem and its components, mainly fish. While the harrowing impacts of hydropower projects on local livelihoods and social systems are being realized gradually, we are yet unclear about the extent of impacts of these so-called green projects have on fish and aquatic biodiversity.

Environmental Impact Assessments of large hydropower projects (> 25 MW as per EIA Notification 2006[2]) are supposed to assess ecological impacts of such projects, but we are yet to come across any comprehensive effort in this direction from EIA reports that we have assessed so far.

The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF & CC) which is entrusted with appraising these projects and their EIAs has paid very little attention to this issue. Since over a decade, the EAC has had expert members from Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute (CIFRI). Both these institutes are supposed to have expertise on fish and aquatic biodiversity. But sadly, their presence has not helped fill the serious lacunae in appraisal and EIAs of the hydropower projects.

SANDRP had been trying to highlight the impact of hydropower on fish and the long standing problems in the so-called mitigation measures being recommended by the EAC. We thought that it may be useful to bring out a first-hand report bring out ground realities of what is happening to our rivers. Emmanuel Theophilus, based in the Dhauliganga Valley and who is an avid mountaineer, storyteller, ecologist and our ally was commissioned by SANDRP to study the impacts of hydropower on fish and ecosystems, review the EIAs as well as mitigation measures recommended by EAC as a part of Environment Management Plans of hydropower projects. We are very glad to publish the report as a first of the hopefully many steps to be taken to understand and address this important issue.

Headwater Extinctions has been written in an eminently readable style that Theo is known for, as could be seen from the earlier blogs[3] he wrote for us! The report has a section on ‘Travelogue’ which records Theo’s travels and thoughts as he visits Bhagirathi and Alaknanda sub basins in Uttarakhand and Beas basin in Himachal Pradesh. The report also brings illuminating photos from these trips. The fact that the travels happened within months of the Uttarakhand disaster of June 2013 could be seen in his photos and travel reports. It further substantives the role hydropower projects played in increasing the proportions of the disaster.

Travelogue is followed by discussions in two parts: Discussions on the impact of hydropower projects on fish and aquatic habitats along the two sub-basins and the role of EIAs, EMPs, Fisheries Plan and the government approval process. The findings of this report are valid for all Himalayan states & rivers.

Back Cover of the report HEADWATER EXTINCTIONS
Back Cover of the report HEADWATER EXTINCTIONS

Headwater Extinctions ends with some striking insights. Sample this: We are in the midst of river extinctions in the Himalaya, but are surrounded by a tragic drama of double-speak and equivocation. And a horde of jostling brokers. Ranging from reputed universities, government departments, research institutions, everyday bureaucrats, and of course, politicians and contractors from within ‘the community’[4] along the developers and regulators. They not only write the script of this drama, they even play all the part”.

The inside covers of the report have detailed maps of the two basins with locations of hydropower projects, with annexures containing lists of hydropower projects in Upper Ganga and Beas basins and also list of fish found in Upper Ganga basin.

Theo has completed this report on a stringent timeline and budget, which meant that all the proposed and implemented fisheries management plans could not be assessed. We hope Headwater Extinctions provides sufficient material and compelling reasons to overhaul the way impacts of hydropower projects on fisheries and aquatic biodiversity are treated by EIAs, EMPs and government committees. We would also urge agencies like WII and CIFRI to do justice to their work inside EAC and beyond. That they are not doing that is apparent.

For EAC and MoEF&CC, we certainly would like them to ensure proper and full impact assessment of projects on aquatic biodiversity in the EIAs. The EAC also needs to stop approving completely ineffective fish hatcheries. They could initiate a credible independent study of the costs, benefits and performance of the fisheries development plans they have been approving in recent projects. It does not only smell fishy, but more like a scam! Here is a relevant quote from the report: “I can’t help see a few things here, as perhaps you do? Bluntly put, I see slush funds being dangled to a whole range of possible collaborators. The kindest term I can find for them is ‘brokers’.”

We look forward to your comments and suggestions on all aspects of Headwater Extinctions. If you would like a hard copy, please write to us.

SANDRP (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)

END NOTES:

[1] The full report is available on our web site, at: https://sandrp.in/Headwater_extinctions221114.pdf

[2] We have been saying this for long and this report helps substantiate our contention that the assumption that projects below 25 MW are benign and do not need EIA-EMP or environmental monitoring and public consultations is wrong.

[3] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/fish-ladder-at-kurichhu-hydropower-project-bhutan-some-thoughts/ and https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/09/27/uttarakhand-floods-of-june-2013-curtain-raiser-on-the-events-at-nhpcs-280-mw-dhauliganga-hep/.

[4] Caveat, there are honest exceptions, but this is a generalization that describes the predominant phenomenon.

Himachal Pradesh · Hydropower

Hydropower in Himachal: Do we even know the costs?

The state of Himachal Pradesh has a hydropower potential of almost 23,000 MW, which is about one-sixth of the country’s total potential[1]. In a bid to harness it, the state authorities seem to have gone all out without really even assessing the costs and impacts it will have on the local ecology and people. It has already developed about 8432.47 MW till now and is racing towards increasing that and in its way, displacing people, destroying forests and biodiversity, drying the rivers, disrupting lives and cultures in upstream and downstream, and flooding cultivable and forest land. The target of the State government for 2013-14 is to commissioning 2000 MW[2] capacity projects. The state and central governments are pushing for more and more projects, playing havoc with the lives of the locals and thus facing continuous agitations. This update tries to provide some glimpses in hydropower sector in Himachal Pradesh over the last one year.

The Ravi, Sutlej, Chenab, Beas & Yamuna, which form the major river basins of Himachal have been heavily dammed. These projects submerge and bypass the rivers, change the course, the flow and the silt carried by the rivers. The 27 proposed projects in the Chenab basin endanger the fragile ecosystem of the Lahaul-Spiti Valley. In the Sutlej, the nine major hydel projects of 7623 MW which are already  running along the 320 km stretch include: 633 MW Khab (proposed), 960 MW Jangi Thopan & Thopan Pawari (re-bidding), 402 MW Shongtong Karcham (under execution), 1,000 MW Karcham Wangtoo (commissioned), 1,500 MW Nathpa Jhakari (commissioned), 412 MW Rampur (under execution), 588 MW Luhri (allotted)[3]. There are about 21 more proposed projects. The same is the case with the Ravi where about 30 projects are proposed to be built or are already functional.

From 1981-2012, more than 10,000 ha of forest land on which people had user rights, have been diverted for hydropower, mining, roads and other projects[4]. This does not include the thousands of hectares of forest land diverted towards projects like the Bhakra Dam before 1980.

On the one hand, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) treats the locals like hindrances, saying that they cause damage to the environment by using the forests inefficiently, on the other hand, it approves big projects which cause hundred times more damage to the environment. There is no recognition of the ecological fragility of the landscape, and clearance from the MoEF seems like just a formality. Clearly, the MoEF and the state government are not interested in doing something for the people of the area, but in pushing project constructions to achieve targets at whatever cost it may require. This is also evident in the way the MoEF, without proper consultation, approved the state’s request for making the procurement of no-objection certificates (NOCs) from the Gram Sabhas a non requirement. MoEF itself had passed a circular in 2009, making it mandatory for project proponents to obtain NOCs of the affected Gram Sabhas and compliance to the Forest Rights Act 2006 before the diversion of forest land to non forest purposes. However, in 2012, the MoEF issued a letter which stated that there are no compliance issues with regard to FRA in Himachal Pradesh since the rights of the forest dwellers have already been settled under the Forest Settlement Process in the 1970s[5]. This is clearly wrong and not supported by facts or ground realities.

Taking away the rights of people on land without giving them adequate compensation has been a governmental trend. It is not enough to just grant monetary compensation to them. The land which could be put to various uses by the local is no longer his. The Gaddis, a shepherding community, rely a great deal on their rights over land as they need it for grazing. With the Forest Dept. making some areas inaccessible for them, their land has anyways decreased. In addition to this, projects like the Bajoli-Holi and the proposed dam at Bada Bhangal, which is sanctuary area now, and traditionally a grazing area for the Gaddis, will further take away from the available land.

Sangla Valley bore the brunt of massive landslides due to the sudden downpour in June 2013. Source: http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/drilling-hills-devastation
Sangla Valley bore the brunt of massive landslides due to the sudden downpour in June 2013. Source: http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/drilling-hills-devastation

Run-of-the –river projects:

But it is not only the loss of forest and private land which is the problem here. Another major issue is that of water. With the state giving increased priority to run-of –the –river projects, more and more water from the river is being diverted for longer stretches.

In the controversial Luhri project on the river Sutlej, the diversion of water into a 38 km long tunnel would mean the absence of free flowing river in stretch of almost 50 kms. The agreed amount of water to be left flowing in the river is 25% for the lean season and 30% in monsoon[6]. The project was initially supposed to be of 775 MW installed capacity and was to have two tunnels. This was challenged because higher environmental discharge was to be maintained in the downstream river. The capacity has been reduced to 600 MW and there will be only one tunnel[7].

But even this diversion would mean that villages falling within 50 km downstream of the project will not have access to its water like they used to. It will also lead to the warming up of the valley as the cool waters will be diverted into the tunnel. The environmental impact assessments (EIAs) have failed to address the effects of this. The EIA has also done no assessment of the impact of the tunnels on the land and people over ground. Locals have been agitating under the banner of Sutlej Bachao Jan Sangharsh Samiti, but the project is still on[8].

Another major drawback of the tunneling process is the danger it poses to the residing population and their groundwater sources. The Karcham Wangtoo project (1000 MW) in Kinnaur, which is the country’s largest hydropower project in the private sector (owned by the Jaiprakash Associates) was closed briefly in the December of 2012, due to leakage from the surge shaft and the water-conducting system, raising concerns about the safety of such projects and the absence of a monitoring body[9]. Because of the massive dam, the leakage was between 5-9 cumecs (cubic meters per second) or 5000-9000 liters per second, which is large enough to trigger massive landslides in the area. The company involved in the project will always try to get away saying that such things are unforeseen and it will take time for the project to stabilize. But in the meanwhile, who should be held accountable for the losses to life, livelihoods, habitats and environment due to this?

The same project involves a 17 km long tunnel passing under 6 villages The tunnell has affected water aquifers causing natural springs to dry up. This claim by the villagers was verified by the state’s Irrigation and Public Health department in a response to an RTI application. The official data showed that 110 water sources have been affected by this project. This information has come out only due to the proactive-ness of local people, but these issues are not even part of the impact assessments.

The concerns expressed by locals in the case of the 180 MW Holi-Bajoli project are quire serious. This project on the Ravi River has been given clearances under suspicious circumstances. It is being opposed by the local communities on issues of environment, violation of rights, and impacts on local livelihoods. People have also taken offense at the apathy shown to them by the state government.  The tunnel for the project was supposed to be constructed on the right bank of the river, which is relatively devoid of habitation, but the powerhouse and headrace tunnel sites were later shifted to the left bank, on which rest most of the villages of the area. This decision was seen as flawed according to a report by the state-run Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board Ltd (HPSEBL), which pointed out that it could have negative effects on the environment and the locals. The reason being cited for this is that construction on the right bank would take longer to be completed. GMR’s contention was that the right bank was weak and unsuitable, whereas the opposite has been confirmed by a Geological Survey of India report according to Rahul Saxena of the NGO Himdhara Environment Research Collective[10].

The protests which have been going on for four years now have been due to legitimate concerns raised by the locals of deforestation, loss of land and infrastructure and the loss of peace which would accompany the project. Earlier this year, women of four panchayats set up camp at the proposed site of the power house at Kee Nallah near Holi village to stage their protests. 31 of these women were arrested for protesting against the illegal felling of trees and the road construction of the project. They were taken to Chamba town which is almost 70 kms away from Holi and were detained for more than 24 hours despite appeals for their immediate release. Though they were released on bail the next day, they say that a lot of false charges have been filed against them. The district administration has taken no steps to resolve these issues[11]. In a letter to the Chief Secretary, the people have demanded that all charges be dropped against these women and justice be done about their demands. Despite continuous protests by the people the MoEF has given clearance to this project which requires the diversion of 78 ha of rich forest land and the felling of 4995 treesx.

The locals also say that change in the MoEF policy of NOCs enabled the Deputy Commissioner to issue a false certificate under FRA saying that no rights have to be settled on the land diverted for the project as it has already been done under the settlement process of 1970s.

Management glitches:

In the Chamera II and III projects on Ravi River, there has been much debate about the distance between the two being only 1.5 km without any water source in the middle. The operation of the Chamera II power station is completely dependent on the release by upstream Chamera III project. If the generation schedules of both are very different, there will be danger to the downstream areas. Last year it was observed that the schedules given by the Regional load Dispatch center were not coordinated, resulting in a dis-balance in the generation in both dams. In another instance, leakage was noted in the head race tunnel of Chamera III HEP.[12]

In a letter to the Chief Minister last year, environmental activists sought to know why there has been no committee set up by the State government for the control and monitoring of safety and water flows as is required by the Hydropower Policy 2006 of Himachal.

In another case of delay and mismanagement among many others, the Kol Dam on Sutlej River, the foundation for which was laid by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the year 2000, was due to be completed in 2008 but is not yet functional. The Majathal Wildlife Sanctuary area falls in the submergence area for the project and clearance was required from the National Board for Wildlife as the project would endanger 50,000 trees and the habitat of the ‘cheer pheasant’[13]. The project was finally granted approval by the Supreme Court in December 2013, given permission to drown the proposed parts of the sanctuary. The whole episode smacks of a scam when the project authorities say they forgot to get the clearance for submergence of the sanctuary and the forest & wildlife departments are ready to look away.

But due to continuous delays trigged by shoddy work and project management, the NTPC Dam project has still not been made functional. The delay is expected to be for at least another year, which would mean an additional loss of Rs. 150 crore. For about a year now the NTPC has been claiming that the filling of the reservoir would start, but they had to abandon that twice due to heavy leakages. There are also problems with the gates fitted inside the diversion tunnel and also additional repairs are needed in the tunnel.[14]

Muck dumping along the Sainj river by Parbati Hydropower Projects. (http://hillpost.in/2014/04/beas-a-dying-free-flow-himalayan-river-photo-essay/98678/)
Muck dumping along the Sainj river by Parbati Hydropower Projects. (http://hillpost.in/2014/04/beas-a-dying-free-flow-himalayan-river-photo-essay/98678/)

No State responsibility for environment:

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has found that the hydro power projects are not adhering to the compensatory afforestation that was promised. Out of the projects it studied, it found that 58% of them have carried out no afforestation activities at all. According to the results of an audit, it was seen that only 12 companies had deposited compensation money out of which no work was done at all in seven of the projects. Even out of the 12, full afforestation was achieved on paper only in 2 of them[15].

Another major problem is that tunnelling and road construction generate huge amounts of muck and debris. These are not disposed off in the right manner. For example, in the Koldam, the net volume of muck generated is 2.27 crore cubic metres. If this was to be dumped in the Sutlej, it would lead to a raise in the level of the Sutlej by 2.20 metres along a length of 100 kms[16]. The project authorities, including the World Bank funded projects like Rampur and Nathpa Jakhri, find it easier to dump the muck into the river rather than transport and dump it properly. The MoEF, state government and all concerned are happy to not take any action against any of the projects for such blatant violations that everyone knows about and even when evidence of such violations are presented to them.

Small Hydel Projects (SHPs):

The view of the government regarding the non requirement of clearances for small projects is clearly unfounded, unscientific and unacceptable. If the authorities think that these projects cause no or little harm to the environment and the people, they are wrong. The fact is that a lot of the hydro power potential of Himachal Pradesh is envisioned to be realized through these small projects which are being indiscriminately built on even small tributaries of the major rivers, sometimes even the ones listed as negative (from fisheries perspective) for HEPs.

The damaged reservoir of Aleo Manali Hydropower Project. (http://www.tribuneindia.com/2014/20140113/himachal.htm)
The damaged reservoir of Aleo Manali Hydropower Project. (http://www.tribuneindia.com/2014/20140113/himachal.htm)

In a recent case, the 4.8 MW Aleo II project located on the Aleo nallah, a tributary of the Beas River, in Kullu district, made news due to the collapse of its reservoir wall in a trial run[17]. The Aleo II project was supposed to become functional in January 2014, but as the management started to fill the 12,000 cubic meter capacity reservoir, its wall collapsed when it was only 75% full. The water from the reservoir went straight into the Beas River, causing sudden rise in its levels till about 50 kms downstream. The management had not informed the panchayat or the public of Prini village which is situated next to the dam site before attempting to fill the reservoir, causing unforeseen danger to them and others downstream.

These small projects[18] also seem to be working without proper lease of land. In a report earlier this year, it was found that out of the 55 projects examined below the 5 MW capacity in Himachal Pradesh, about 47 of them are operating without proper lease of the forest land that they are using. It was found after an RTI was filed regarding this that about 35.973 ha of land in the Chamba district was being used without lease by 13 HEPs. The case was similar in Kangra with about 43.5035 ha being used without lease. This just goes to show that the State regulations regarding hydro projects are not strict and definitely faulty. The land is being ruthlessly exploited by private and public sector companies which have a bullying attitude towards the local population[19].

Excessive electricity? Reports suggest that the state requires about  1200 MW of power, but it is producing so  much more that it has no buyers. It is not surprising to see that projects like the 1000 MW Karcham Wangtoo in Kinnaur are facing lack of buyers for electricity. The JPHL has not been able to sign long term Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) with any power distribution company (discoms). As a result, it is selling electricity through short term agreements or at lower prices. This is the situation with a lot of other plants in the state, both private and public. Even the state is facing difficulties selling its surplus power and as a result has to sell it at lower prices. According to a 2012 report of the CAG, the revenue earned from selling surplus power in Himachal has dropped significantly over the past years. The reason given for this is mostly the increased cost of production which has made power more expensive and the discoms, which are already in debt are thus unable to buy it.[20] Even after facing such losses, why is it that the Himachal government is pushing for more and more projects, destroying the rivers, forests, biodiversity, livelihoods and environment?

To add to the worries of the local people and environmentalists, in a recent announcement, the Chief Minister has announced that there is no NOC required from the fisheries dept, IPH, PWD and the revenue dept for small projects[21] Also, to make things easier for the project developers, it was announced that the small projects below 2 MW installed cpacity, were now liable to give the government only 3% of free power for a period of 12 years, as opposed to the earlier 7%xvi.

In an interesting development of the first ever Cumulative Environmental Impact Assessment (CEIA) in the state, a study of 38 hydro electric power projects in the Sutlej basin, the recommendation has been to designate the “fish-rich khuds, mid-Sutlej, eco-sensitive Spiti, Upper Kinnaur area and 10 other protection areas as a no-go zone for hydro projects”[22]. The CEIA is incomplete, inadequate and makes a lot of unwarranted assumptions and uscientific assertions. Even if this recommendation implemented, several projects in the Sutlej basin are still under way and the government seems to be doing nothing to stop them. There is also an Environmental Master Plan (EMP) prepared by the Department of Environment and Scientific Technology, and approved by the government which claims to have identified the vulnerable areas of the State[23]. This EMP is being adopted by the State for its developmental planning for the next 30 years. But the impact of this is yet to be seen, assuming that it does not turn out to be one of those plans which are never implemented.

Padmakshi Badoni, SANDRP, padmakshi.b@gmail.com

People of Dhalanjan village show their destroyed and dilapidated structures (https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/10/01/photo-essay-on-the-impacts-of-blasting-and-tunneling-for-hydropower-projects-in-chamba-district-in-himachal-pradesh-1/)
People of Dhalanjan village show their destroyed and dilapidated structures (https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/10/01/photo-essay-on-the-impacts-of-blasting-and-tunneling-for-hydropower-projects-in-chamba-district-in-himachal-pradesh-1/)

END NOTES:

[1] http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/drowned-power

[2] http://indiaeducationdiary.in/Shownews.asp?newsid=24595

[3] http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/HimachalPradesh/Review-hydropower-projects-on-Sutlej-Kinnaur-residents/Article1-1101869.aspx

[4] http://tehelka.com/himachal-pradesh-government-flunks-forest-rights-subject/

[5] http://www.himdhara.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Press-Note-20th-Jan-2013.pdf

[6] http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-02-24/chandigarh/37269688_1_luhri-project-mw-luhri-river-project

[7] www.energylineindia.com February 24, 2013.

[8] http://www.tribuneindia.com/2013/20130222/himachal.htm

[9] http://www.tribuneindia.com/2013/20130128/himachal.htm#7

[10] http://www.newstrackindia.com/newsdetails/2013/08/18/229–Hydro-project-site-shift-disastrous-Himachal-government-.html

[11] http://www.himdhara.org/2014/04/17/press-release-all-womens-independent-fact-finding-team-visits-holi-expresses-solidarity-with-local-struggle/

[12] www.energylineindia.com may 16, 2013.

[13] www.enrgylineindia.com January 24, 2013

[14] http://www.tribuneindia.com/2014/20140417/himachal.htm#11

[15] http://zeenews.india.com/world-environment-day-2013/world-environment-day-hydro-projects-causing-degeneration-of-hill-ecology_853017.html

[16]  http://hillpost.in/2013/07/the-uttarkhand-apocalypse-is-himachal-next/93449/

[17] http://www.himdhara.org/2014/03/24/run-into-the-river/

[18] For details of impacts of small HEPs in Himachal Pradesh, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/06/08/the-socio-ecological-effects-of-small-hydropower-development-in-himachal-pradesh/ and https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/06/11/the-socio-ecological-impacts-of-small-hydropower-projects-in-himachal-pradesh-part-2/

[19]  http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Majority-of-small-hydel-projects-in-Himachal-Pradesh-operate-sans-land-lease/articleshow/28696581.cms

[20] . http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/drowned-power

[21] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Budget-sops-to-make-investments-in-hydro-power-attractive/articleshow/30079948.cms

[22] http://www.tribuneindia.com/2014/20140704/himachal.htm#15

[23] http://www.tribuneindia.com/2013/20131208/himachal.htm